Maya profiles four entrepreneurs who broke their comfort zones, had faith in themselves. They had the courage to dream with their eyes wide open. Working against many odds and personal challenges, each one of them drank the proverbial poison before drinking the elixir and creating wonders. The fire in the belly and focus never fails.
I always think why Neeta Ambani had not taken key roles in Reliance Industries till recently when she got fifty?
Why Ratan Tata never thought about getting married though having fallen in love pretty number of times and why Gauri Khan started her career so late?
Sky is not the limit to these business magnets, be it a man or a woman. Working as an entrepreneur is not certainly anybody’s cup of tea that’s the reason why sometimes even such tycoons need to choose between their personal life and professional life.
But, what if a person wants to be a successful entrepreneur and simultaneously have a happy personal life as well?
Is that possible? Let’s find out.
What do we actually mean by the term ‘entrepreneur’?
“A person who organises and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.”
Diligence and Perseverance Worked for Sanjay
Meet Sanjay Khandelwal. He’s the founder and director of Khandelwal Namkeens and Snacks Pvt Limited. He belongs to Ajmer. Urged by the ambition to have his name inscribed in the field of industry, he came to Alwar with not really a handsome amount in his pocket but with a will to succeed! Business ran in his blood.
“I wasn’t encouraged by anyone. It was rather the contrary. I hadn’t completed my college education. My parents and teachers therefore tried their level best to dissuade me from the course of action my mind had been actively working upon. My Dad, however, had full faith in my potential as would be businessman. He, therefore, after the initial reluctance, gave his consent. He could not, however, provide me the economic support I was in need of, to set up the loom upon which my dream was to be woven.”
“With what amount did you start your business with?”
“A meagre amount of Rs. 15,000/-. It was a new place for me. I needed to take a house on rent and a work place was to be set as well. Raw material was the basic requirement too. Plus machinery had to be bought. Thus the entire sum was spent in arranging the paraphernalia. Despite great unease I had to ask Dad for more. Dad sent Rs. 5000/- more. He asked if there was a re-consideration needed about the whole plan. I gingerly denied. Couldn’t go back. I did a pretty good number of experiments. I made my accounts fair too because I intended no tax evasion.”
“How did you get the right clients for your products?” I seemed to be distracting him from his fond memories that twinkled in his eyes, misty yet beautiful.
“I couldn’t at that stage afford a personal vehicle so I went from shop to shop marketing on foot. The art of persuasion my teachers appreciated me for came to my help. The shopkeepers sneered at me surreptitiously may be or I felt they did wondering how a boy of eighteen could cover the entire local market with his food products,” he chortles.
“When the sun was cruel and I worked manually with my labourers almost smouldering near the furnaces, I had no cooler, let go the unaffordable thought of AC! So I would wrap a wet towel around my loins like those poor souls did. At times rain fell incessant. I had to suffer loss when we had no orders at times. After-all our work progress depended on customers. I remember very well how on the auspicious day of my first Diwali in the new city, I had absolutely no money in my pocket to dine even at some dhaba, let go buying sweets,” he said, misty eyes, wiping his tear surreptitiously.
“So, after the long period of hard struggle and lessons in patience, what’s the current status?”
“I did cover the local market in a year or so. Things got smoother as the credit facilities
increased. My business had a tough setback when there was a fire accident in my factory, in 1997. Again I stood at zero, minus, however, the lack of self-confidence. My experience in this industry and the good image built, helped me come out soon. It’s been twenty three long years! Had I given up then, our products might not be spreading roots in five districts and a few states. The first year’s turnover was a mere Rs. 80,000/- which has turned out to be in crores now.” Sanjay gleams with satisfaction.
“Has marriage made any difference? ”
“It’s a big difference. The risk factor involved varies. I mean when you are single, you can afford to take bigger risks as no other lives depend on you as a bread winner and your decisions aren’t going to affect other lives. You can put in your best, work for hours at a stretch, let go the expenses to build your social image. Once you get married, your resources seem diminish. You might tend to forget the good cause you initiated the business for. You are obliged to provide a good lifestyle to your family. You have to work as per the convenience of your family. When I worked as a single, days and nights were the same. Work was everything. I would even skip meals because my dedication to work shadowed all other personal comforts. After marriage, I felt insecure at times. The ability to take financial risks reduced. Marriage isn’t a hindrance. It keeps you more disciplined. Your decision making power though slow is far more consistent. I have an understanding wife. She supports me. Mutual faith and cooperation is the key to handling any job.”
Financial Risk and Focus has been Bhawna’s Strength
Bhawna Dargan, who has been in laundromat business, runs two stores in Delhi. She began her journey as an entrepreneur just ten months back.
“What was the idea behind the venture, Bhawna?” I asked intrigued.
“I hate doing laundry. This is the most convenient service for getting your laundry sorted out. That’s how the idea struck me,” she laughs.
“Was it the first time you moved out of your home to work?”
“No, I had actually worked for eleven years before I took the sabbatical to be able to provide the best care possible to my young born.”
“Where did you work earlier?”
“I worked with Blue Star Ltd as an Assistant Manager in Service Marketing. That’s why despite the 24*7 thousand little tasks as a Mom, I felt useless within. An empty mind is a devil’s workshop. I grew desperate to do something. My husband encouraged me to do something on my personal level so that I could have the much required flexibility of working hours,” she adds.
“With what amount did you begin? How does the work make you feel, satisfied?”
“I spent my entire savings on this project. Lots of support from husband and family. It took fifteen lakh rupees for one store to begin with. Currently, I’m running two. My uncle is part of this project with me.”
“Well, that’s a huge amount!”
“It’s one-time- investment for machinery and setup. Other costs are mainly the running expenses. Lot of plumbing and electrical work is needed for this kind of setup. I have two stores, one in Sant Nagar East of Kailash and the second one in Rajinder Nagar,” she glows with content writ large on her face.
“How did you get in touch with the right clients? I mean most of us the Indians take it as a wastage of money and would be at pains to do laundry by themselves. Even while staying in 5 Star Hotels, they would keep piling clothes up or wash on their own! Right?” I asked light heartedly.
“Ha-ha, yes! Well, lots of marketing efforts went into ensuring the right clients. Our main clients are bachelors and working couples. They easily agreed once they had tasted the ease. Ours is basically wash, dry and fold service for all washable garments from bedsheets to socks.” She informed me with an all-knowing air.
“How long did it take to reach the level where you could say you started earning profits?”
“It took four months to reach a level where we could manage our expenses.”
“How do you manage the work with your kid of two and half?”
“I have flexible timings. Moreover, both my stores are on CCTV. I drop my kid at school and reach my store. I pick him up on the way back home. I spend some time with him and again am back to work. Things become feasible once you set your mind to a goal,” she smiles.
“By what name are you running your stores?”
“In Sant Nagar it is S.H.E. Wash (smart hygienic and economical). And in Rajinder Nagar it’s Laundry Circle (We Make Life Easier).”
“Frankly admitting I like the first name more,” I opined though not asked for.
“That’s being gender biased, Maya,” she pulls my leg, giggling like a teenager.
“Hey that’s not true! I take pride in She. That’s you and I.”
“Bhawna, do you think you could have reached higher position as an entrepreneur if you weren’t married? Does marriage prove to be an encumbrance? For women to work?” I roll my eyes in anticipation waiting for a response.
“No, not at all! As a human you need friends and family. Marriage gives you immense support. My hubby, who also happens to be an entrepreneur, proved to be my best guide indeed. He himself worked for twenty years elsewhere and only two years back he and a couple of his friends ventured into their own business. They are channel partners of HP. The name of his firm is Thoughtsol Infotech Pvt. Ltd. They are IT system integrators.”
“What inspires you to keep on working?”
“An inspiring quote made me firmly believe in myself. ‘It is never too late to be what you might have been,’ said George Eliot. Since I have read this, I have always invested in thinking what success means to me and have travelled in that direction without any fear of failure. I do believe that the most valuable thing one can make is a mistake. You can’t learn anything unless you are imperfect. A fledgling is one day no more a fledgling.”
“Beautiful!” I exclaim with a twinkle in my eyes.
Technology, Vision and Enterprise Worked Wonders for Shikha
Let’s meet Shikha Arora, Founder and CTO of MAZ, an entrepreneur.
“Shikha, how did the journey begin? How did you end up being an entrepreneur?”
“I belong to a very middle class family in Gurgaon where my father worked in central government and my mother was a school teacher. I was an academically brilliant child and had a passion to try out different things, the things which others might not think of. Like I wanted to learn horse-riding back then, and my father would support as a rule. You know, there would be people coming to our house and ask me, ‘Beta, bade ho kar kya banoge? (What will you be when you grow up, my child?) Engineer? Doctor? Teacher?’ To that my father once replied, ‘Yeh to nahin pata engineer banegi ki doctor, mere khayal se unhe naukri jaroor degi’ (Not sure if she’ll be an engineer or a doctor. She would employ them, I feel). I might be nine or ten at the time, didn’t obviously understand what that really meant but those words, you know, kind of, got etched in my memory…”
“Let’s fast forward. I graduated from Punjab Engineering College Chandigarh, completing my B. Tech. and took a job in one of the leading software companies of the time. Later, I switched over to a couple more of companies, and eventually started working for Adobe Systems, Noida, which is unanimously considered to be one of the best software companies to work for, in India. In normal terms, I was settled, making a lot of money, was married and blessed with a daughter. Then in 2010, when iPad was launched, Adobe started creating a product in the Digital Publishing space specifically for the iPad. I was so very fascinated by the iPad then, and hence I expressed my desire to work on this product within the company.
The request, however, was turned down for some reason. But my fascination for the device did not die. I spoke to the Product Manager of the project (in the US) and expressed my deep seated desire again. I had the opportunity to speak to him as he had visited India. He said he couldn’t take me in his team because that was not possible in their company setup. But what he said after that, was the much sought after turning point in my life indeed. He said, “If you want to work on iPad, and if you are passionate about creating the world class digital publishing software, do it on your own, who in the world can stop you?”
This was it for me! I did actually resign from my job and founded MAZ, in 2011. I looked for the right partners, worked day and night for creating the best Digital Publishing Solution and launched our product in market, in 2012, in a competition to Adobe.
Today, MAZ Digital Publishing platform can boast of having thousands of brands using our platform, with millions of end users, reading content on devices with apps created, using MAZ. We’re now the #1 competition to Adobe in this space, and we’ve just begun,” she fascinated me.
“Was it urged by your family and friends or it was solo initiative on your part?”
“In my case, I was passionate about starting on my own, and so, I would say, the initiative was all mine. But at the same time, I got enough support from my family to make the dream come true. During those early phases, I would have a new business idea every day, and I would discuss it at length with my husband, and he was always willing to listen. My final decision of leaving behind a fat pay cheque every month couldn’t be materialised without his support.”
“So, tell us more about MAZ Digital like what does it actually do? What is the business model and how does it power content?”
“MAZ is a platform-based- solution for publishers and media companies to get their content onto digital devices, be it websites, smartphones, apple watch, or very gently Apple TV. For example, suppose you’re a magazine like Forbes (that uses MAZ), you are not a technical expert to determine how to make your magazine available to iPhone or a Samsung tablet.
You would typically use tools created by MAZ to manage your apps across platforms. I would say publishers add Power to their content by using MAZ tools,” she enlightens me with a self-assertive smile.
“What do you mean when you say we ‘Power Content’?”
“The apps created by using MAZ platform are powerful, a product in print is very limited. MAZ lets you add a lot of videos, audio, e-commerce, etc. right into the content.
And this is the world of Facebook. People feel tempted even to have their food pictured and posted on Facebook! How can reading stay away from this? MAZ lets people instantly post on Facebook, twitter, etc. “I am reading this,” Shikha smiles.
“It really looks like a very innovative platform. Who is creating this technology, and where is this happening?” I ask, a baby in the woods.
“I feel so very proud when I say that this complete product development happens in India! We don’t have any other Product development centre in the world. We have a team of world class engineers from IIT’s, DCE’s working with us at MAZ here, in India, and we’re doing a lot of innovation here. We have, in fact, filed for technology patents for the innovation done here by the team. PM Narendra Modi talks about “Make in India” and “Make for India”.
We’re in fact “Making in India” and “Making for the World including India! Our product is world class, in 100% competition with other world class technology products and we’re doing great! This in itself is a big assurance of India’s ever-increasing competence towards success on the world level. Indian entrepreneurs need vision, and Modi Ji with his Start-up India Initiative, is rightly bringing that vision close to reality.”
“How do you define a start-up?”
“A start-up in my opinion is a passion beginning to make sense. Each one of us dreams, each one of us may have a passion to pursue, and some good soul may have a burning desire To Fly Some Fine Day, and he can continue desiring the same for the whole lifetime but nothing actually happens. The day he really figures out a way to fly, even if it be as little as a one foot and determines that he is onto it and will actually make flying possible, I think a startup is born. Which sector, which domain, which location… doesn’t really matter.”
I look at her in sheer disbelief!
What are those, loaded with potential energy, actually made up of! She eloquently adds, “I think anyone can be a start-up entrepreneur. It doesn’t really matter how educated you are, whether you are a girl or a boy, whether you are living in a village or a mega city. I think this is the easiest job one can go for! Here you don’t need to showcase your worth, no degree display, no work experience. All that you need to have, is passion!”
“How do you feel being called an entrepreneur?”
“The feeling is beyond words! Seriously! I had been nurturing the dream to be an entrepreneur for so many years, and believe me, it’s easier said than done. You need to let go things that don’t actually matter much. When in job, I fancied a beautiful office, I actually had one but as I began as an entrepreneur, I started working from a garage like space situated next to a very noisy generator! I remember to have gone so typical a miser that I’d think multiple times before even buying a T-shirt for myself because I wasn’t sure how long the money would last with me. I harboured apprehensions whether my business would actually see the light of the day! But now as I look back, I feel pride even having worked from that garage like space. I have learnt to value money and time of course. Also, there are other aspiring entrepreneurs who come to you and look up to you as a fountain of inspiration, and that gives a beautiful sense of accomplishment.”
There is a beautiful smile on her face.
“Is this someway different or more difficult to be an entrepreneurship being a woman?”
“I felt no gender bias working against me hence I won’t say it’s more difficult being a woman entrepreneur. However, managing time with family, kids, and starting up altogether is challenging, for the time being at least. Kids would always want their mommy with them and when you’re in the middle of starting up, you have an absolute dearth of time! When I started, my daughter was only two years old, and I certainly missed the time I could have spent with her.”
“What approximate amount did you start with? How did you initiate?”
“No funds. I initiated by fixing a meeting with two ‘would be partners’ online (on LinkedIN), who lived in America. We didn’t know each other personally. But we noticed that the three of us had complimentary skills and were most conveniently placed geographically to start this business in collaboration. My business required me to have one Sales Office in America and Technology office in India, and we were rightly placed in that sense. So, we started together not even having met for quite long! We could actually make this work! We had exactly $0.50 in our bank account when we started. So, I would really say you don’t need a lot of money to start a business so long as you’re rightly skilled. We all worked on individual grounds. I coded for 18 hours a day, and my partner worked door-to- door at the time to see the product we were building. Thus, bit by bit we were learning the basics of our business. We did raise our seed round of investment during the first six months however, to expand our sales and technology teams.”
“Well, hats off to the technology! Clients?”
“By creating the best product, and of course reaching out to them door-to- door. There is no magic wand here, mind it! The biggest challenge was to build the right team, people willing to work with the same passion.”
“And the challenges at home?”
“Inside home…being a wife and a mom, this was indeed scary at times. I don’t know if I have really been very good at it. I do suffer from the mommy guilt till date. In order to achieve my professional goals, I did falter at places, as a Mom and as a wife. But I know – no pains, no gains. I actually felt like giving up many a times. It wasn’t really a smooth sail. It was a very small boat, a raft instead and you always had to stay put. A lot of times, I felt despair overpowering my will like it wasn’t taking me anywhere! The business wasn’t growing though we were doing our best! So, I like to end up thinking, I have done my best, and I have put myself completely into it. That’s the gratification which is really worth the pains taken.
There is something in it, which makes you stick along and not quit. I think this is more or less like bearing your own child. I like the analogy for it does actually convey the painstaking process undergone. Whenever I stumbled, my inner self, my hubby and my family kept me going. ‘Shikha, you came to this world all alone, without anything, but still you survived! So why fear? Move on!’ This seriously worked for me.”
She added, “My husband has been very supportive all along. I would always bank on him for any kind of support be it emotional, moral, or financial and he was always there for me. In addition, my brother Vikas had been extra supportive believing and making me believe that I could do anything. That kept me going.”
“Elders in family. What was their response?”
“For a woman in India there’s certain invisible book of rules and regulations that she must abide by. Household duties come first, come what may! The elders in my family failed to understand my thirst for self-recognition and I don’t blame them for this. So, I faced the dilemma, but I take this as part of the whole package. My Dad has been the proverbial rock support throughout. Much influenced by the book, Rich Dad Poor Dad!, he often loves to quote from it.”
She wipes a few tears.
“I’m proud of you Shikha!”
“It has taken five years to reach this state. Profitability is something all startups dream of, and only very few end up attaining it.” Shikha feels pride in saying that MAZ is now a profitable company.
She loves the independence, the confidence and above all, the job satisfaction this entrepreneurship has brought to her life. She wouldn’t disclose the profits.
A woman progressing is the greatest profit imaginable! Isn’t it?
So lovely ladies, if you have some passion, go jump into the rill of dreams. You would emerge a winner for sure!
Fire in the Belly and Prioritisation has been Navin’s Success Mantra
Navin Wadhwa, Director in HVAC System Integrator Company, taking care of Sales and Project Execution, tells about his journey as an entrepreneur. “I was very stable and going good at Blue Star as Area Manager for Delhi and NCR Service Division. As they say once you become too comfortable in job, it is necessary to come out of your comfort zone to move ahead.”
“How did you get this opportunity?”
“I got an opportunity to join one of our channel partners as director for service and project.”
“Has it been a smooth sail? Have there been any hiccups on the way?”
“The first six months were really tough as coming out of the comfort zone did take its toll. I started questioning my decision to give up the job and doing things literally on my own. Being master of one thing in job and jack of all trades in business is necessary and essential in its own respect. Gradually I got into the groove.”
“What was it that motivated you further?”
“Fortunately, I got the opportunity to handle sales function too after a conspicuous amount of time at eight months or so. This was a turning point indeed as it gave 360 degree view.”
“What was the biggest challenge?”
“The biggest challenge is time management and finance management,” says Navin.
“People management. Of course that, however, comes third on priority.”
“Once you take a risk to secure a better future there are times when you go weak in knees. Reasons may be many. What has been the biggest motivation during such moments in your case?”
“The biggest motivation is seeing your dream coming to reality at customers’ place. And money of course,” he smiles.
“We sell dream to customers that air conditioning will be like this. To achieve that dream we have to coordinate with 100 suppliers, labour teams, architects, etc. And at last integrate things in the final shape that is acceptable to customers and even exceeds their expectation!”
“What has entrepreneurship taught you?”
“Everyday’s a new learning and the day ends with lots of experience and learning from mistakes is the biggest joy possible, right?”
“Do you think being married affects your progress as an entrepreneur?”
“Initially I resisted marriage. There were various questions in my mind: what if there were financial losses, what if I was not able to generate even the minimum funds to fulfill my family needs? What if I was not able to manage my time between my family and business? But when I discussed these doubts with my wife. She reminded me ‘higher the risk, higher the gains’. She ensured that she wouldn’t resign from her job for next two years atleast, to support me financially. She was working in an MNC and was nursing some dreams. She encouraged me to take the opportunity. I did. And since the day I have had no time to look back.
Pix sourced author.